The advent of gaslight early in the l800s was the first major advance in artificial lighting for centuries. It was a Scottish engineer, William Murdock, who developed a practical method of distilling gas from coal for the purpose of illumination.
The advantages of gaslight over candlelight were recognized immediately and exploited quickly. Despite the initial costs, entrepreneurial industrialists were able to foresee the future, for even without a chimney an open gas jet flame gave a much brighter light than candles or oil lamps. Also, there was the advantage of control. By varying the inflow of gas a smooth increase or decrease of light could be effected from a central point. This discovery became the precursor of the modern central heating systems.
Still, there were definite disadvantages to using gas for lighting: it was hot, gave off offensive (and often dangerous) fumes, and having an open flame indoors was a serious fire hazard. Therefore, a protective code was established mandating guards, screens, and glass chimneys.
Gas stations and city gas mains were not installed until l850, so candles remained the primary source of illumination for most people. Even after city mains were bringing gas to urban dwellers' homes, the rural folk still depended on candlelight. It was only in l890, after the introduction of electric lighting, that the incandescent gas mantle was developed. This invention greatly improved the quality of gaslight — made it whiter and brighter — but it did not remove the hazards of fire.Theatrical Review
The first successful adaptation of gas lighting for the stage was at the Lyceum Theatre in London, in l803, by a German, Frederick Winson. In the United States, the Chestnut Street Opera House in Philadelphia installed a gas lighting system in l8l6, supplying its own gas by installing a gas generator on the premises.In the Limelight
If you thought the phrase of being “in the limelight” was a figurative one for getting attention, you didn't know about Thomas Drummond. He was a British engineer who invented limelight in l8l6, although it did not come into general use until thirty years later. Limelight is produced by directing a sharp point of oxyhydrogen flame against a cylindrical block of lime. The tiny area of lime becomes incandescent, emitting a brilliant white light that is soft and mellow. Limelight was particularly suited to theatrical use because of its intensity. A mirrored reflector allowed it to be directed onto the stage to illuminate and follow individual performers as they moved — hence the present meaning of the term, used when speaking of somebody who is getting attention.